John Williams' latest collaboration with director Steven Spielberg, The Terminal, follows the composer's superb Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban like a scrumptious dessert.
On his way to New York, a coup d'état erupts in Viktor Navorski's (Tom Hanks) European homeland of Krakozhia, leaving Viktor without a valid passport to enter the United States or return home. Taking up temporary residence inside the airport, he relies on patience and resourcefulness to cope, makes new friends, and unintentionally tortures an ambitious bureaucrat (Stanley Tucci). Despite the comedic overtones, the military coup and, occasionally, the government red tape appear with surprising frankness. "The Terminal" is a lively cinematic confection with a little weight. Williams' ensuing approach is both cheery and urbane.
'The Tale of Viktor Navorsky', the album's opening track, swiftly introduces the principal character's sprightly, deliciously memorable theme. Emily Bernstein carries the melody with brilliant clarinet solos throughout the score, sometimes augmented with an accordion - it's all steeped in Eastern European modes. The cue plays over the first half of the end credits, is tremendous fun, and as an independent selection it is ideal for Williams' concert appearances.
Viktor's interludes with a gorgeous flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones) produce a romantic secondary theme that evolves from a jazz set into a symphonic theme of 'Destiny'. Several other motifs pop in and out, including a sparkling ditty for two secondary characters into which a familiar wedding march makes a cleverly orchestrated appearance. While not as memorable as some of their relatives in Williams' score for the 1995 Sabrina, they are more debonair. But the standout among the auxiliary melodies is a national anthem for the fictitious Krakozhia, a wickedly appropriate, grandiose march. Darker moments end too quickly to make a lasting impression, although golden-eared listeners may detect a nod or two to Bernard Herrmann. This score is thematically rich and shrewdly dramatic. The biggest complaint I can offer is that a handful of passages are rather average by Williamsí standards.
If there is any major flaw about the album, it is the production design - which, in the grand scheme of things, is not major. Still, with courtesy extended to show movie stills, a gush-note from Spielberg, and the complete orchestra listing, why no track times? And there is an annoyance on the North American release (possibly elsewhere): having suffered through flimsy cases, insta-break plastic, and recordings with so many stickers they look like preschoolers' lunchboxes, does anyone really need anti-piracy labels that ruin the mood, strain the eyes, and seem utterly pointless since the discs themselves bear larger warnings? LPs had nice big covers, CDs abandoned that pleasure but at least managed to reduce the image proportionately, yet here we have a bland, condescending and oversized notice that takes up more than its fair share of album real estate. A warning on the disc itself is ugly, but arguably rational. The other is wasting space.
But I digress. John Williams is the most consistently talented composer working today, and I submit "The Terminal" as happy evidence to support that claim. The music suits the film, it is a good listening experience on its own, it is of outstanding quality... and it makes me smile.